Ambuluwawa Tower – Sri Lanka’s craziest tower
In the highlands of Sri Lanka, about an hour outside of Kandy, there is a pretty, snow-white lookout tower on top of a mountain. That alone would be interesting, but this tower also has a totally wacky architecture. A spiral staircase winds along the outside, getting narrower and narrower like a snail shell, until it’s only about 20-30 inches wide.
The Ambuluwawa Tower is still a bit of an insider tip in Sri Lanka – and tends to be more suitable for the adventurous and adrenaline-loving among you. Here you will find all the important information and my tips for a visit to the tower.
A tower like a snail shell
When I first discovered the Ambuluwawa Tower in the depths of the internet, I knew: I have to go there! I love the “different” places when I travel. If they are also high up, so that I can feel on top of the world and then they offer a great view, I am even more magically attracted. I certainly can’t remember seeing such a crazy tower before!
Ambuluwawa Tower perches about 1 hour outside of Kandy on a hilltop in Sri Lanka’s highlands. A spiral staircase winds along the outside of the white observation tower, getting narrower and narrower until it’s only about 20 inches wide at the top.
The ascent is pure adrenaline: Not only the staircase, but also the view into the surrounding countryside is dizzying! (Not to mention the oncoming traffic that you have to somehow maneuver past…). I definitely had a blast and (somehow) made it all the way to the top!
The (adrenaline-filled) ascent
For the first few floors, the climb is less spectacular via a stairwell inside the tower. Then you step out onto the large viewing balcony. From here on, the climb continues along the outside of the tower! The staircase is still relatively wide at first, so that I can still move past oncoming visitors without major problems. The 360-degree view of the highlands from the staircase is incredibly impressive and so I stop often to simply look and take photos.
Quickly, the staircase becomes narrower and I slowly push myself further up, a hand for safety always on the wall. So slowly I have real adrenaline in the blood, because not only the stairs are dizzying, but also the view beyond the railing. To make matters worse, it is also quite fresh on the stairs and especially really windy!
Tip: It’s better not to take any large bags or backpacks up the stairs. Take as little as possible with you! (Even my camera dangled at me at some point quite annoying and threatened to bump everywhere).
What to do in oncoming traffic?
The biggest challenge for me is oncoming traffic, which always comes around the bend completely without warning – you can see a maximum of 1-2 meters away. Fortunately, there are always small “escape bays” – niches that are embedded in the wall, but get smaller and smaller as you get higher. (I have to duck in with my 1.75m at some point right to fit in at all. At the top I was simply too tall…). Otherwise, you make yourself as flat as possible and presses itself
somehow pass each other. This means that one person has to walk along the outside of the railing. (Which I try to avoid at all costs and always press myself right up against the side of the wall when someone approaches me.)
Fortunately, when I’m already pretty far up, I hold out in one of the alcoves until several Sri Lankan families have passed me and ask several times if anyone else is coming. The Russians coming from the top do not speak English, but a friendly local couple finally assures me that they are the last. My chance!
The worst part for me was squeezing past oncoming traffic
Would you dare?
I squeeze out of the niche and tackle the last few turns to the top. Now hurry, before someone else comes along! I’m honestly surprised myself at how excited I am in the last few meters – the adrenaline is really kicking in now. I honestly no longer manage to look through a camera viewfinder and just manage a snapshot with the cell phone. The camera dangles in the meantime somewhere at me around, as I climb on the meanwhile only 30cm wide stairs carefully further up. If someone comes towards me now… While I’m still thinking that, I see in front of me how the staircase narrows to just a few centimeters – and suddenly stops.
From here on it goes no further. We made it!
I am upstairs!
I don’t know whether I imagined another platform at the top and am now a bit disappointed, or whether I’m just glad that I made it to the top on my own. I hold on carefully and once again consciously take in the 360-degree view before I make my way down (which seems much faster than the way up). How awesome that I was able to let the others pass and then I was all alone at the top! I honestly wouldn’t have known how I could have dodged at the very end (see picture above)
Anyway, the climb is quite exciting and definitely a little adventure in itself, but also really fun!
Fear of heights – what now?
You are afraid of heights and would like to know to what extent a visit is worthwhile at all? I would say that for people with a fear of heights, the climb up Ambuluwawa Tower is definitely not suitable – at least up to the very top. But standing on the big viewing balcony (about halfway up, see pictures) is also a cool experience! Until then, a normal staircase inside the building leads to the top. My travel companion also suffers from a fear of heights and was able to come up to the viewing balcony with (plus one or two turns after that, then the limit was reached with him). So you can just try it and see until when it feels good for you, and then still turn back.
By the way, you also have a great view from the terrace at the base of the tower and from the second, smaller observation tower! There are also other smaller religious buildings of different religions to see on the site (see next item).
The second, smaller observation tower
What else is there to see at Ambuluwawa Temple?
The place is also called “Ambuluwawa Temple”. However, it is not a temple in the real sense, even if the white tower is modeled on a Buddhist stupa. (That’s why we were not checked at the entrance to see if everyone was wearing appropriate covering clothes, and you could also leave your shoes on). The site sees itself more as Sri Lanka’s first multi-religious center. Accordingly, there are other small buildings on the grounds: a Hindu temple, a Buddhist temple, and even a church and a mosque stand peacefully side by side here.
Also, besides the big tower, there is a second, smaller observation tower (see photos above), which is about 3 or 4 stories high. From this tower you also have a great view – especially of the big tower! From here you can photograph it from a good perspective and watch well how people slowly spiral upwards. I also liked the two terraces on two opposite sides. From each of the terraces you also have a nice view of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
Practical info & tips for your visit
Location & How to get there
Ambuluwawa Tower (also called Ambuluwawa Temple or Ambuluwawa Biodiversity Complex) is located about 1h southwest of Kandy and about 25 minutes from the train station in Gampola. From Kandy you can make a half day trip – either by cab or by TukTuk. It is much cheaper with the TukTuk, but it is much more pleasant and comfortable with the cab, because the trip is quite long. Ask at your accommodation in Kandy if they can organize a driver for the trip, this is usually always uncomplicated and possible at short notice in Sri Lanka. Tell the driver that he should wait for you at the entrance, then you do not have to organize a return trip on site.
Good to know: The last part after the main entrance with the ticket office, the road leads extremely steep up to the top with the tower. Therefore, not all drivers drive the last part from the Main Gate to the top. You can also hike up from the main entrance, but it drags a lot and the walk is not that exciting. I would rather save that in the heat and find a driver who can actually take you all the way up to the tower and wait for you there.
The entrance fee is 700 LKR per person (end of Feb. 2022).
The best time to visit
The tower is still rather an insider tip among tourists and still off the mainstream, but it is becoming more and more famous. It is also a popular destination with locals. When I was there on a weekend at the end of February, most visitors were local families and couples, followed by Russian tourists. It became noticeably more crowded, especially towards the afternoon, and I was lucky to be able to catch a moment without oncoming traffic at the top during my ascent. I would therefore recommend coming during the week and early in the morning so that there is still as little traffic as possible on the stairs.
How do you like the tower? Would you dare to go up?
More on Sri Lanka:
You can check out my Instagram reel on Ambuluwawa Tower here.
Here you can read my Sri Lanka travelogue
with route and tips for 2-3 weeks.
Here I have written down how the entry to Sri Lanka currently works.
Continue reading: https://www.blackdotswhitespots.com/ambuluwawa-tower-sri-lanka/